Case report

Scand J Work Environ Health 1999;25(3):291-295    pdf | Issue date: Jun 1999

Pontiac fever at a sewage treatment plant in the food industry

by Gregersen P, Grunnet K, Uldum SA, Andersen BH, Madsen H

Background and objectives During a hot and humid summer period workers became ill with fever and flu-like symptoms after repairing a decanter for sludge concentration at a sewage treatment plant. The work took place over a period of 10 days in a small closed room, while another decanter was in operation and was consequently emitting aerosol to the environment, to which the workers were exposed. The aim of this study was to determine the cause of this outbreak of febrile illness so that additional cases could be prevented.

Methods All 5 patients were seen and examined in the Department of Occupational Medicine. Furthermore 2 of the workers had recurrent illness and were examined during hospitalization. As Pontiac fever (nonpneumonic legionellosis) was suspected, antibodies to legionellae were measured in blood samples. After positive antibody titers to Legionella pneumophila were found, samples of the sludge were collected for legionellae culture.

Results and Conclusions The clinical picture agreeed with that described for Pontiac fever, and positive antibody titers to L pneumophila serogroup 1 were found in blood from all 5 patients. L pneumophila serogroup 1 was cultured in high amounts from sludge from the decanter. It was concluded that the fever was caused by L pneumophila emitted to the environment by the uncovered decanter. Procedures for preventing new cases were established.